Johnny, are you queer? : the sexual and gender politics of ambiguous sexual identity

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A number of scholars have pointed to the increasing visibility and acceptance of gays and lesbians in Western nations since the 1990s. One of the potential ramifications of these changes is a transformation in the construction of heterosexual identities. Some masculinities scholars have found evidence that heterosexual masculinity is changing to be more inclusive of practices that have been stereotyped as “gay” or “feminine.” This dissertation adds nuance to these findings by studying straight-identified men who claim to be perceived as gay. Through life history interviews with 20 men, I examine the ways that ambiguous heterosexuals manage their sexual identity. I find that many of the men in my study self-identify as “feminine” men on account of their practices, comportment, and emotional traits. I highlight how the meanings of these “feminine” gender practices are inflected by men’s class positions and racial identities. I also show how these men struggle to claim a straight identity in a culture where effeminacy is still conflated with being gay. Next, I explore the ways that straight people experience and make sense of being targets of homophobia. I found that most of my respondents experienced homophobia raging from the explicit and overt to more subtle forms of homophobic microaggressions on account of being gender non-normative. However, I demonstrate how they draw on heterosexual privilege to mitigate negative social consequences that result from being read as gay. Finally, I show how ambiguous straight men’s sexual identities are validated or undermined through their interactions with women.